We need to know before we do when climate aid increases

Climate aid promises to simultaneously reduce climate effects and combat poverty. Yet, to secure such double dividends, improved evaluations of the current aid interventions are needed.

A key recommendation of the report is to strengthen domestic capacities in recipient countries and give local research institutes the mandate and resources to provide new knowledge to improve the impact of climate aid.

EfD researchers have recently released a report on the impact of climate aid:  “In search of double Dividends from climate change interventions: Evidence from forest conservation and household energy transitions” The report was commissioned by the Expert Group for Aid Studies – a Swedish agency responsible for reviews of aid performance.

The study focuses on two of the top five sectors receiving climate-related development finance, namely forest conservation and household energy. The team carried out systematic reviews of relevant impact evaluations. And although some solid knowledge does exist, the authors argue that there are serious ‘know-do gaps’, i.e. gaps between what we know and what we do. This gaps emerge in different dimensions – the interventions implemented are not well represented by the ones studied, the intended impacts are not the impacts studied, the geographical areas studied do not fully represent the areas of implementation. And there seem to be underlying reasons why these gaps persist. This is, of course, cause for concern. And if this situation doesn’t change, there is an obvious risk that aid-financed climate interventions will be ineffective.

“ But there are also signs of change and progress towards closing the know-do gaps, with initiaitves to supplement interventions with institutionalized impact evaluations. For instance, Norway is now investing in domestic capacity with the mandate to evaluate the Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy in Ethiopia, says Köhlin.”

Sweden could also use its funding leverage to align the incentives of program managers and scholars to learn not just if interventions contribute to both climate change mitigation and local co-benefits, but how, for whom and under what circumstances.

Evaluation of climate aid must be reformed

The authors support the requirement that aid efforts must be combined with studies of high quality so that we can "know" before we "do". Specifically, it has the following sharp suggestions:

1. More evaluations must be done where the climate aid to these sectors is greatest. This is not the case now. There are many evaluations of improved stoves from China, but few in Africa.

2. Since the final impact of the forestry and energy projects on the environment and poverty depends on how participants are selected and also on how those not participating are affected, it is important to include researchers in the design and evaluation.

3. Since climate aid has dual objectives, the evaluation teams must have expertise in both estimating the climate impact and welfare effects. Currently there are very few studies related to forestry and energy projects that take socio-economic, environmental or health impacts into account in the evaluation approach, which makes it difficult to analyze the synergies and trade-offs between different objectives. This weakness should be remedied when evaluations are designed and bought up.

The authors do not claim that it is neither easy nor cheap to follow these recommendations. On the contrary, they would collectively require more scientific evaluation team conducts extensive and often expensive studies over long periods of time. Unfortunately, it has proven to be difficult for donors and agencies to implement this. But given how much is at stake, both in terms of short-term poverty reduction and long-term climate implications, we urge donors, authorities, researchers and evaluators to meet these challenges. The final recommendation is therefore to strengthen domestic capacity in recipient countries, and that local, independent research must be given the mandate and the necessary resources to fulfill this important role. This is of course also a call for further support of existing and future EfD centers!

The researchers behind the report are Gunnar Köhlin, University of Gothenburg and director of the Environment for Development Initiative (EFD), Subhrendu K. Pattanayak, Duke University, Erin Sills, North Carolina State University, Eskil Mattsson, University of Gothenburg, Madelene Ostwald, Gothenburg and Linköping University and Daniel Ternald, University of Gothenburg.

 Read more and download the report here

In relation to the launch of the report the authors also wrote an opinion piece at Biståndsdebatten (in Swedish) and 

Prof Subhrendu K. Pattanyak was interviewed by Omvärlden (in Swedish) 

News | 22 March 2016